Hobson's Choice: Theatres co-operating to mount spectacular shows

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Ambitious just begins to describe the collaboration between The Shakespeare Company and StoryBook Theatre for the Calgary version of the Broadway musical Something Rotten, and Rosebud Theatre’s stage version of the 1981 Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire, both of which open April 5.

Back in 2019, Haysam Kadri, who was then the artistic director of The Shakespeare Company, approached JP Thibodeau, the artistic director of StoryBook Theatre, about a possible collaboration to stage a Calgary version of the hit 2015 musical Something Rotten.

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“Haysam wanted to do something really special for The Shakespeare Company’s 25th anniversary, and he wanted it to be Something Rotten because it’s a great spoof of Shakespeare’s life and plays, and it’s a musical, which is something The Shakespeare Company has never done,” says Thibodeau.

When Kadri left The Shakespeare Company to head up Alberta Theatre Projects, his successors, Richard Beaune and Meg Farhall, were fast on board with the idea.

“We are thrilled to partner with StoryBook Theatre for the first time and to bring this deliciously irreverent romp to the stage. This collaboration not only signifies a milestone for both our organizations, but also offers valuable opportunities for artists both on, and off, the stage,” says Beaune.

Something Rotten is the story of the Bottom brothers who run a theatre company that competes, quite miserably, with Shakespeare’s famous company of players. They consult a struggling soothsayer named Thomas Nostradamus who tells them musicals will one day be more beloved than any play Shakespeare ever wrote, and thus begins two hours of slapstick tomfoolery, and 17 big, brassy Broadway-style song-and-dance numbers.

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“Something Rotten is filled to the brim with spoofs, and sendups, of Shakespeare’s plays, and famous Broadway musicals like A Chorus Line, Chicago, Cabaret and Phantom of the Opera. The wonderful thing about this show, is a person doesn’t need to be a buff of either Shakespeare or musicals to get the great jokes and laughs,” says Thibodeau, who is directing Something Rotten.

Joel Schaefer and Christopher Sherwood star as the Bottom brothers, with Hal Kerbes as Nostradamus, and Tory Doctor as Shakespeare, with a supporting cast of emerging artists.

Thibodeau is most excited that he was able to engage Greg Pember, whose credits include TC’s Escape to Margaritaville and Crazy For You, as well as Stage West’s Spamalot, Young Frankenstein and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, as the show’s choreographer.

“This is a big dance show, and Greg is one of Canada’s finest choreographers, and our cast members are some of the best dancers in the theatre community.”

Something Rotten has been compared to Monty Python’s Spamalot, Mel Brooks’s The Producers, and The Book of Mormon for its ability to take musical parody to great heights.

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Something Rotten runs in the Beddington Arts Centre April 5-21.

Rosebud
Aaron Krogman and Joe Perry in Rosebud Theatre’s Chariots of Fire. Courtesy, Rosebud Theatre cal

ROSEBUD THEATRE IS GOING FOR THE GOLD

A stage version of Chariots of Fire was created to coincide with the 2012 London Summer Olympics, where it ran for six months. Dennis Garnham directed the North American premiere at the Grand Theatre in Ontario in 2018.

Rosebud Theatre’s artistic director Morris Ertman secured the rights to the show in 2019 but the pandemic prevented his planned 2020 production.

Ertman says Chariots of Fire is one of the biggest productions Rosebud has ever staged.

“Our stage for Chariots goes to the back wall of the theatre, and to both side walls, and the stage seems to spill out into the audience. We’ve created a race track on stage, and have installed state-of-the-art treadmills so our actors can run full out when the script calls for it,” says Ertman.

Chariots of Fire is the story of British runners Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams who prevailed in the face of enormous odds to compete in the 1924 Paris Olympics.

“Chariots of Fire is much more than a story of human endurance. It’s a story of believing in oneself, in one’s heritage, and one’s religion. It’s also two beautiful love stories. It’s the perfect show for Rosebud. As soon as I read it, I knew we had to do it,” says Ertman.

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Even though the famous Vangelis theme was available, Ertman decided not to use it because he didn’t want to conjure up the movie. “This really has to be a completely different experience for our audiences. I want them to be introduced to the live version, which is so different, and so powerful in its own way.”

Ertman’s son, Luke, who is a musician and composer, has created an original score for this production which he combines with songs from Gilbert and Sullivan.

Joe Perry, who played the title character in Vertigo’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde stars as Eric Little, with Aaron Krogman, who numbers among his credits playing Christ in the Badlands Passion Play, as Harold Abraham. The supporting cast includes Emily Howard, Hailey Foss, Nathan Schmidt, Griffin Cork, Caleb Gordon and Declan O’Reilly.

Ertman says one of his major goals in directing Chariots of Fire is to “create all the energy, excitement and tension of what it means to be in a race and to watch a race.”

Chariots of Fire runs at the Rosebud Dinner Theatre April 5 to May 25.

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